Those of us living in 1963 remember where we were and our station in life when Jack Kennedy was assassinated in November of that year. Who can forget the image of Jacqueline Kennedy standing next to Lyndon Johnson as he was sworn in as the new President of the United States, with the oath administered on Air Force One. And nearly thirty-eight years later, all of us remember where we were when the hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11/2001; we watched in televised horror as the buildings collapsed in such a way that they resembled an induced implosion, similar to those normally set off by explosive devices strategically placed on the building interior. Ten years after the Kennedy assassination, the nation had changed, but its fundamental character, that of a feel-good, do-good nation with a bright future had not altered: things would get better. By that time, Johnson had been driven out of office into self-imposed exile by his own conduct of the Vietnam war. Hubert Humphrey lost the election of 1968 to Richard Nixon because of Vietnam and the Democratic Party Convention held in Chicago that year. Nixon, was president in 1973, elected with a vague promise of generating peace in Vietnam, but had escalated the bombing in North Vietnam and started secret bombing in Laos and Cambodia. At home, the country was in a state of anger and confusion over the war, stagflation and oil prices, unable to connect the dots between them in any meaningful way. The break-in at the Watergate Hotel took place in June of 1972 and by 1973 the issue was heating up to the point that Nixon would resign as President a year later in August 1974.
The New Deal, established under FDR, had started its own form of implosion, in part because no one stood up and explained things like stagflation in any satisfactory way. A replacement philosophy was offered through neoliberalism and the free market economy, couched in phrases that seemed like personal freedom had been denied by the New Deal philosophy of embedded liberalism; the new arguments were provided by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, with Friedrich von Hayek serving as a historical figure and the “Miracle of Chile” under Pinochet as the primary example (people don’t need freedom, they just need a good income). No one seemed to care at the time that the “Miracle of Chile” marched the country towards an increasing disparity in wealth distribution–a Chilean gilded age. Eventually, the neoliberal formulation would come to dominate the global economy and generate our current gilded age disparity in our national wealth distribution. The income disparity in America, coupled with having elected a black President in 2008, has resulted in a division between the two political parties that is so divisive, it threatens our economic and legislative future. But even more telling about the nature of our country is that, when Kennedy was alive, the Cold War was raging and an Armageddon of sorts was avoided during the Cuban Missile crisis a year before his death. In between then and now the Cold War ended, yet the military budget has remained alarmingly high for a country that before 9/11, was at peace.
What about ten years after 9/11, a date fast approaching? As a result of the memory-searing 9/11 event, in very short order, we started two wars we cannot finish and have a President that promised to stop the war in Iraq, but there are doubts today whether our military involvement in that country will ever be finished, largely because we are still in conflict with Iran, whose influence in the Middle East was enhanced by our invasion of Iraq. So here is the new American logic of war–we invade a country under false pretenses but in reality did so to gain control of their oil and sell off all their assets–a free market economy from the get-go. Then, when the war and occupation got ugly, we put in a puppet government at a time when George Bush didn’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites (he said he thought everyone was an Arab); it was in the election of this puppet government that a Shiite government was formed (not surprisingly because the majority of Iraqis are Shiites), whose natural ally is Iran–the number one enemy of the United States. So, we are occupying a Shiite country to protect them from a neighboring Shiite country with whom they are natural allies and we don’t quite know who the enemies there will really be, except we know that we didn’t quite get control of the oil as we had planned and someone finally told Paul Bremmer that selling off the assets of an invaded country was a crime against humanity and that he could be arrested and tried at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. That could still happen: maybe America could begin a healing process of sorts if it did.
In the meantime, the war in Afghanistan, the right war according to candidate Obama, cannot be won, but our military insists that we are making progress, which cannot be confirmed by journalists other than those embedded within the military. Americans badly need to feel that we should be able to win at least one war, so the press seems willing to try and provide us with a sense of imminent victory if we can stay the course for a few more decades. Along the way, America became a security state, with a security apparatus that no one can comprehend, but it has a completely black budget and will be with us forever. Numerous agencies now constitute our intelligence system. The military tells us that the Afghanistan war will take as many as ten more years at the current rate of progress. Surely, at $ 2 billion a week, America will not wait that long to pull the plug!
No President will ever authorize a reduction in the budget of our heavily privatized and overly-inflated security system, with buildings distributed in every state (a well-known military strategy for weapons manufacturing). If a terrorist attack should occur after a President cut the budget of our national security system, the mood of the country would place the President’s political future, as well as that of his party into doubt as the relaxation of security expenditures would be blamed for the attack. So, on top of the military budget, which is already close to the combined military budgets for the rest of the world, we add an additional layer for a security budget, but that’s an add-on we can’t even sink our teeth into because it is entirely secret. It is a highly privatized security system that has the right to examine any of our emails or phone messages for critical words, so be careful what you say on the phone. Any American can be arrested, detained and exposed to a long period of incarceration. Do we feel more secure because of this new, massive security state? No: our new source of insecurity comes from the threat of this large, secretive , uncontrollable organization. Did securitized America help capture the underwear Christmas bomber? No! Did it help eliminate Osama bin Laden? Not according to Richard Clarke, who appeared on Frontline earlier. In fact, you might want to watch Frontline’s “Top Secret America“ to get a feel for the unwieldy nature of our security system that developed after 9/11. Here are some of the uncomfortable facts: currently, 854,000 people in America have top-security clearance (this is not easy to get: some universities give classes on how to get this top level of security clearance); 1200 government organizations and 2000 private companies contribute to our intelligence apparatus, all of which was created after 9/11. A slight expansion on this topic has appeared in these postings.
Though the intelligence system we created after 9/11 is largely unknown to us, lurking in the dark recesses of our national fabric, we can articulate what is more obvious about the changes we have made in our national character–we ourselves have became terrorists after 9/11! No one gets their head around this aspect of our cultural transition better than Noam Chomsky. I recommend that you read his article, which appeared in the Tomgram, just this past week. Kidnapping, torture and assassination are now part of our new national culture and people like Dick Cheney are publishing to reinforce this character change and, in the process, help him elude criminal charges that might someday come to rest on his doorstep. Polls show that many Americans accept this new form of behavior as necessary for our national safety, despite the fact that torture experts tell us that applying things such as waterboarding get people to say whatever you want from them to in order to get you to stop. But, waterboarding and torture are only part of the story. To assess the scope of this change in our national character, we have to go all the way back to the close of WW II and the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war machine leaders. From Chomsky’s article, part of which describes how we treated Osama bin Laden in comparison with how we handled Nazi trials after WW II:
- “When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden — the Nazi leadership — the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson’s summary execution ‘would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride… the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear.’”
then, comparing Bush’s invasion of Iraq and his overall behavior in conducting war policies, Chomsky says,
- “Similarly, it is uncontroversial that Bush and associates did commit the “supreme international crime” — the crime of aggression. That crime was defined clearly enough by Justice Robert Jackson, Chief of Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg. An “aggressor,” Jackson proposed to the Tribunal in his opening statement, is a state that is the first to commit such actions as “[i]nvasion of its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State ….” No one, even the most extreme supporter of the aggression, denies that Bush and associates did just that.” Problem stated problem solved for it doesn’t matter if Bush and company deny it, that it happened and was an unprovoked act of aggression is an undisputed fact. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice are international criminals.
Quoting again from Justice Robert Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States at Nuremberg,
- “We might also do well to recall Jackson’s eloquent words at Nuremberg on the principle of universality: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.””
America was deeply, pathologically changed by 9/11. The inflexibility of Tea Party members reflects this new pathological state. We were unprepared by our leadership for what happened to us, largely because our leadership wanted to keep our foreign policy actions a secret from the American public, who they knew would never approve of our foreign policy actions, once exposed as being so foreign to the international image we like to project about ourselves. When you look at the polls that show a majority of Americans believe that their children will not have the same opportunities for success that they did, that the country is headed in the wrong direction, combined with the general pessimism about our economy and the global state of affairs, perhaps turning to Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry for the answers doesn’t seem as outrageous as it would have ten years after Kennedy’s assassination. After all, we tried everything else, didn’t we? When your own country abandons your ideals and sense of responsibility, a bewildering emotion of abandonment makes us all confused about what it was we had in the first place–in the form of a country. As one outcome of this betrayal, one has to assume that we have not seen the end of terrorist attacks against the United States, but we are unable to see that if we restored justice to the Middle East and helped create a workable Palestinian state, a major motivation for these terrorist attacks would be mitigated. Imagine that we have been led by international criminals, who should be tried in a World Court for their crimes against humanity and then imagine where our standing would be in the world of public opinion, if we followed through with that obligation. In time, we might reduce the securitized state of America.
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